The San Diego Seals are using their two games this weekend to prove to themselves, and the rest of the NLL, that they have both bark and bite.
The West Conference-leading Seals (9-2) face a pair of critical battles against teams they could see again in the upcoming playoffs, visiting Panther City at Dickies Arena on Friday (8:30 p.m. ET; ESPN+/TSN+) before travelling home to host Buffalo at Pechanga Arena on Saturday (10 p.m. ET; EPSNEWS/TSN+).
“The biggest things for us are consistency in our play, and just not looking past any game,” says San Diego assistant captain Cam Holding.
With two wins this weekend, the Seals can clinch a spot in the 2023 NLL Playoffs as The March to May continues. Double Ws would also go a long way toward solidifying home-floor advantage through the postseason for San Diego.
“It’s a huge win just getting into the playoffs,” Holding says. “With the playoff structure and the parity in the league, it could be anybody. We all want to win, we all want to get there.”
The Seals have added incentive this year after being eliminated in the playoffs by the eventual NLL Cup champions the past two seasons.
“The last few seasons, being knocked out by Colorado (in 2022) and Calgary (in 2019), being so close, it motivates you more,” says Holding. “There’s so much parity, finishing first tells us we executed during the season, proving to ourselves that we’re best in the West. Home-floor advantage is huge too. We’re ready for it, it’s just a matter of going out and getting it.”
First, San Diego needs to take care of West pest Panther City Lacrosse Club (8-5; third place in the West Conference). The Seals handled PCLC earlier this season, 12-10 on Feb. 4.
“We’ve seen them before. They gave us a close game last time,” Holding says. “It will prove where we’re at with consistency, playing a full 60 minutes. Panther City is a young, fast team with a great work ethic that pushes the ball in transition. It will be a good test for us.”
For PCLC, trying to make their first playoffs in only their second season, there’s also a sense of urgency heading into Friday’s game.
“Every game is huge here down the stretch,” says PCLC rookie Jonathan Donville, who’s fifth in the NLL with 53 assists and tied for eighth with 72 points. “Our focus is just taking the season one game at a time and trying to improve every game.
“San Diego is incredibly talented so I think transition-defense will be big for us, just trying to do what we can to slow down that potent offense. For us, we know that we are successful when we’re winning the hustle plays and working hard.”
In between the PCLC and Buffalo games, the Seals will try to quickly recover and prepare “for a very talented Bandits team,” Holding says. “Sleep, hydration, good food and hitting game film.”
Buffalo (10-3; first place in the East Conference) is ornery coming off of a loss to Colorado last weekend in a rematch of the 2022 NLL Finals.
“We are focused on what we need to do be successful and bounce back against a very good Seals team,” says Bandits forward Josh Byrne, who leads Buffalo with 29 goals despite missing three games.
For San Diego, sticking to their game plan is imperative no matter who the opponent is.
“It’s just a matter of executing; it doesn’t change a whole lot team to team,” says Holding (three goals, nine points, 62 loose balls and 11 caused turnovers this season). “Going into the Buffalo game, we’ll be executing those principles over and over again.”
But defenseman Holding admits that the dynamic duo of Byrne and Dhane Smith and the rest of the Bandits offense “can disrupt those principles. They’ve also got a big D group and a helluva goaltender. The first five minutes are going to be key.”
Most important for the Seals ahead of the best-on-best-matchup against Buffalo is staying even keel and keeping things big picture with six weeks remaining in the 18-game schedule.
“For sure, as a fan, you’re excited for the matchup,” Holding says. “For us, it’s a game that’s another opportunity to separate us in the standings and put us in a position to make a run in the playoffs. East-West teams don’t play each other that often, so it will give us an idea where we’re at.”